Milwaukee Bucks: Don’t be surprised by John Henson’s re-emergence

OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- DECEMBER 29, 2017: John Henson
OKLAHOMA CITY, OK- DECEMBER 29, 2017: John Henson /

After years of inconsistent roles and general frustration, John Henson is in the midst of putting together a career year. Should the fanbase be too surprised about that?

Consistent is one of the last words many of you would think of while trying to encapsulate John Henson’s six years with the Milwaukee Bucks, and for good reason.

Henson has had to endure inconsistent minutes while navigating through inconsistent roles while playing on inconsistent Bucks teams over his six years in Milwaukee. Those inconsistencies have produced a wide array of narratives that have followed the 27-year-old.

Henson started as a raw, lanky defensive force coming out of college. He then evolved into a premier shot blocker who averaged 1.7, 2.0, and 1.9 blocks in his second, third, and fourth seasons respectively.

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The Greensboro native’s standout campaign in 2013-14 combined with his integral role in the 2015 playoffs earned him a contract extension in the fall of 2015. Unfortunately for Henson, injuries, competition in the front court, and overall inconsistent play changed the narrative once again, this time for the worse.

The lowest point arguably came when Henson fell out of the rotation last season, with Greg Monroe and Thon Maker holding things down at center. Fans were ready to trade their long-tenured big man away for a sack of potatoes, a bag of bricks, or even for nothing, wanting to just leave him on the side of the road like a broken down dishwasher with a “For Free” sign taped to the front.

If your trade machine idea didn’t include Henson, then were you even using the trade machine correctly?

And yet here we are starting the 2018 calendar year with the narrative slowly changing again. What’s caused the longest-tenured Milwaukee Buck to go from a raw draft pick with a high ceiling, to a player the fanbase viewed as a black hole, back to playing the most productive basketball of his career?

There are two explanations for this, with the first being the more obvious.


Finally, we can start attributing the concept of consistency to John Henson’s name. He’s starting to see consistent minutes in a steady role this season. Don’t think that’s a big deal? John Henson would tell you differently.

In a recent article written by ESPN Milwaukee’s Eric Nehm, Henson discussed what it’s like having a set role.

"“Mentally, it’s a lot better for me, I can go to sleep at night, knowing what I’m going to need to do that next night, how many minutes I’m going to play the next night, what my role’s going to be, or who I’m going to be guarding and that helps tremendously.”"

That solidified role has allowed the former UNC Tar Heel to have his most efficient offensive season to date. Henson is posting career highs in field goal percentage (60.6 percent), offensive rating (111.1) and net rating (5.6).

The Bucks have a -3.9 net rating with Henson off the court this year, second worse only to Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s -10.6. Henson’s 111.1 offensive rating on the court is second on the team, but might as well be first as it’s only behind Sean Kilpatrick‘s inflated 135.2 rating (Kilpatrick has only played 46 minutes in five games so far).

Henson’s efficient offensive season is partly the product of him being able to get to his spots on the court. We all know about his go-to hook shot, and I really do mean go-to.

Per, Henson has attempted more hook shots (71) than layups (69) and while he’s shooting them at a lower clip (52.1 percent on hook shots, 58 percent on layups) think of those hook shots as another big man’s pull-up jumper.

When Henson isn’t rolling to the bucket off a screen, he loves to flash right below the free throw line off penetration, sit in the middle of the defense, and use that hook shot in various ways. Lets take a look at three different examples.


Here’s a pretty simple one. Giannis drives the ball, pulling both Andre Roberson and Steven Adams to him. Watch Henson flash, wait, and shoot his shot.


Eric Bledsoe drives and brings two defenders with him before finding Tony Snell in the corner. Charlotte’s weak side help defender has to sprint over to Snell, allowing Henson to reach his spot again.


Finally we see Henson being able to get to his spot amid chaos. Malcolm Brogdon muscles a pass to Khris Middleton off a drive. The weak pass draws two different Spurs defenders to contest. This allows Henson to comfortably get to his spot and finish.

We’ve seen an increase in Henson’s pick-and-roll finishing this year which is always a plus, but these hook shots are his bread and butter.


The second explanation is one that maybe gets downplayed, overlooked, or perhaps both. John Henson is truly a consummate professional.

Perhaps it’s no coincidence that after years of fluctuation and years of frustration, you haven’t heard one negative thing internally about Henson. While the fanbase yelled for change, Henson continued his work, while also continuing to be one of the glue guys in Milwaukee’s locker room.

Henson told ESPN Milwaukee’s Eric Nehm that learning and adapting to different defensive schemes comes with the territory.

"“That’s just part of being a professional and playing in the NBA. Every team is different. Every game is different. Each night, it’s a different story.”"

In November John told Lori Nickel of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that in his younger years in the NBA he’d learned how to conduct himself from veteran teammates.

"“How to carry yourself, how to act. What to do, what to say, what not to say. How to play.”"

Milwaukee Bucks coach Jason Kidd called Henson a “true professional” and “great teammate” after Henson’s contract extension in 2015.

While those quotes have different contexts around them, there’s a common theme. That theme is John Henson knows what he’s doing. This resurgence is probably coming as a surprise for most of us, but it’s not to Henson.

Of course, the fear for Bucks fans is that Henson may slip back into his old inconsistencies, but maybe he’s finally moved past that. Even more importantly, maybe all of this actually means something more.

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Henson’s re-emergence seems to be about more than what he’s doing on the court. It’s not a coincidence that Henson is finding success all of a sudden, instead it’s a testament to his resilience and work ethic, with an assist from that trusty hook shot.